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Tough Conversations: 3 Tips for a Good Chat on Hygiene


Have you noticed a decrease in your Mom or Dad’s level of hygiene? Are they still wearing clothes they wore the day before – maybe even pants or a shirt that are visibly dirty? Is your parent’s hair often messier than usual? Is there discernible body odor where there wasn’t ever before?

As people age, some of the activities of daily living, like doing hair and makeup and even keeping up on laundry, can fall by the wayside. However, poor personal hygiene can also be a sign of a physical inability to complete everyday tasks, or it can be a sign of something more serious, such as dementia, memory loss, or another cognitive issue. For your loved one’s long-term health, it’s important to make a distinction between what they can improve on their own and what they may need more assistance with.

Use these tips to talk to your loved one about what is going on, so you can ensure they get any extra assistance they may need and you can determine if a higher level of care is necessary.

Start With the “Why”

It’s quite possible your Mom or Dad doesn’t even know there is an issue! Maybe they let a particular hygiene activity go for a few days and before they realized, it was completely forgotten. Whether it was conscious or they are aware of the issue, it’s important to approach the question carefully, as many seniors are fearful of losing their independence. Using a calm, understanding voice, inform your loved one of the changes you have noticed. Don’t be accusatory or patronizing.

Explain the Importance of Good Hygiene

Frame the discussion around social expectations of what good hygiene is, again being careful to modulate your tone. If body odor is part of the issue, it can prevent people from wanting to visit your loved one, possibly leading to social isolation, which can cause a number of other compounding issues. Poor personal hygiene also has the potential to lead to skin irritation or infections, which can quickly snowball with older adults who are frail or have other underlying health problems.

Ask How You Can Help!

Does your loved one need an occasional reminder, more assistance with purchasing body care products, or do they just run out of time in the day? Moving slower can lead people to have trouble accomplishing everything they set out to do each day. Or your loved one could be depressed or anxious and in need of some counseling or medication. It can be good to include their doctor in this discussion, as well, to address any medically treatable concerns that may come up.

Your loved one’s doctor also will know the right questions to ask in order to determine if your loved one is experiencing memory loss, dementia, or another cognitive issue. Together, you can determine if your loved one needs a higher level of assistance, such as home care, enhanced care, assisted living, or memory care.

To learn more about all the care options available for your loved one at Ebenezer communities, visit the Navigating Options page on our website.

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Ebenezer is Minnesota’s largest senior living operator with over 100 years of experience serving older adults. As part of Fairview Health Services, Ebenezer is dedicated to healing, discovering and educating for longer, healthier and meaningful lives. ​

Discrimination is Against the Law. We comply with applicable Federal civil rights laws. We do not discriminate against, exclude or treat people differently because of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation.

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